Volume 24, Issue 1, March 2001
Deborah R. Barnbaum
Teaching Empathy in Medical Ethics
The Use of “Lottery Assignments”
Being empathetic (or compassionate) is an important trait that allows for those working in health care professions to successfully analyze cases and provide patients with adequate care. One standard and enormously important way to try and teach empathy involves the use of case studies. The case-study approach, however, has some unique limitations in teaching empathy. This paper describes an activity where students are asked to imagine that they have contracted a specific disease (one that lasts the entire semester) through a process of random (or lottery) assignment. Having contracted a disease, students are then tasked with taking on the persona of that patient. In writing and adopting the perspective of that patient, students are better able to learn the kind of empathy needed to be a successful health care professional.